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Our School Counsellors, Beth Sarlos and Paula Kolivas, work with students and families across all year levels at Camberwell Girls Grammar School. In her article below, Beth talks about some of the challenges of adolescence with a particular focus on connecting with your adolescent. She also provides some helpful tips.

With best wishes,

Debbie Dunwoody

Redefining family connection in adolescence

Recently, a post came across came my social media feed, which asked, “What is it the most challenging part of parenting adolescents?

I usually love the commentary and feedback that parents make in the comment section, and I tend to always read them. They are often very validating of what parents go through, witty and humorous. In this particular post, perhaps not surprisingly, there were many comments from parents, including:

“The eye rolls, the sarcasm, the disrespect, the ignoring of advice, the condescending remarks, the defensive reactions, the not doing what they are asked, the sense of entitlement”, and many parents simply said, ‘all of the above’!.

Regardless of the temperament or behaviour of your children, most parents can identify with some, if not all of the comments – I know I do. The overriding comment made by parents in response to the question posed was that at times parents, felt shut out of their children’s lives and a sense of rejection prevailed as their children strive for independence and navigate their way through adolescence.

I read somewhere, that “the only thing that is harder than being the parent of a teenager/young adult is actually being a teenager/young adult in today’s world”. This is a good reminder for us as parents.

Adolescence is indeed a difficult time for both adolescents and parents. As we are all aware, a young person’s pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making, is not fully developed until 25 years of age and beyond. This means that the teen/early adult years are  likely to be fraught with challenges, including academic stress, peer pressure, fluctuations in mental health, trust and self esteem issues, and the challenges of identity formation.

Adding to this is that, adolescents and young adults, live in a world where social media not only gives them messages that they are not good enough but also, in the process of connecting them with others, social media paradoxically, actively results in their social disconnection as well. Social media and adolescent time online often means less quality face to face time with family and makes family engagement and connection harder and harder.

This is all happening, at the same time that adolescents are navigating the process of moving away and trying to assert their independence from the family. Family connections are often replaced by connections with peers and less time is spent with the family. It is normal for them to listen and interact more with their peers than with their families and while this can be difficult for parents, it is a very typical stage of adolescence. 

The goal of this moving away from family for adolescents, is the need to separate and individuate, to become their own person and go out into the big world. The goal for parents is to let go, to allow them to be in control of their own lives and choices, and in the process make them independent, self-aware and self-reliant adults.

In the process of individuating, striving for autonomy and self-reliance, and ultimately becoming their own selves, adolescents are ‘disconnecting’ from us or at least that is how it seems to many parents I have spoken to.

From conversations with friends and parents that I see in my day-to-day work, many parents struggle with their children separating from them and often grieve the loss of what once was. They find it hard to balance the need for the adolescent to separate, with the need to sustain some type of communication with them.  And yet, there is no time that is so important for connectedness than the time when your young person is beginning to separate from you. They may not need you to be in control of their lives, but they still need guidance and connection, it is just that this connection may look different to what it has in the past.

Research has demonstrated the connection with family (and school and community for that matter) has a huge impact to physical and mental health. Adolescents who feel connected to others have a lower incidence of anxiety and depression and empirical evidence suggest the protective role of parent-child connectedness.

So how can we maintain the connections but at the same time allow our young people and fledgling adults transition into adulthood? I have scanned many parenting blogs and posts and have compiled some helpful tips for parents to help navigate the turbulent waters of adolescence, whilst focusing on a ‘new’ way of connecting with your young person.

  1. Take an interest in their interest, their music, their passions. They may not be your interests or to your liking, but ask your children about them and learn from them.

  2. Ask for some time together. It may not be the same amount of time you had when they were younger, when you watched family movies together, but at least it is some time together. Stop for an ice-cream after school, coffee after an appointment or go shopping together.

  3. Choose your battles. This applies to all stages of parenting, but in particular, with the adolescent years when adolescents challenge us the most. Let go of things that do not have a huge impact on your child, like their choice of clothing, choice of music etc and focus on the positives and strengths that you see, rather than the deficits.

  4. If at all possible, BE THERE. They may say they don’t want you to come to their soccer or netball game or music performances but trust me they will notice when you are not there. Your presence matters, even if they don’t always acknowledge it.

  5. Show grace in unexpected situations. “Showing grace is giving a pardon”, in  situations where your teen/young adult has not done what they should have done. If your child has not been responsible for loading the dishwasher, taking the garbage out when it was their job, instead of nagging, offer grace instead and don’t always resort to the usual consequence. Sometimes as parents we are too caught up in the lesson they need to learn, the consequence they need to have and not “letting them off the hook”. 

  6. Be a good listener. Often parents become anxious when their children come to them with problems. They feel the need to solve our children’s problem, to come up with a solution. Our job is to listen, validate how they are feeling and empower them to come up with a solution themselves.

  7. Trust in your parenting. There will be many rough patches but take a breath. Trust in the parenting that you have given them and the lessons you have taught them.

  8. Let the emotion go before you respond. Your emotions will come fast when you have a teen/young adult. You may be annoyed for something they did. Take time before you react and think about what it may be like for them and what they may be going through. Sometimes just the tone of your voice can lower the stress in the room.

  9. Try not to take it personally. When you feel rejected, upset by your child, it does not mean the end of your relationship. Often it is the ones we care about most, that we treat the worst.

  10. Don’t forget the practical things. Use technology to send your children humorous memes, text messages, an in joke – speak their language! Also look for opportunities to give them a hug, pat on them on back when they go by, cook them a favourite meal, offer to do their chores if they are busy and need to study for exams. Small gestures of kindness can bring big rewards.

The connection with teens/younger adults becomes increasingly important as a change in connection from family becomes normal. Remember, the process of separation is normal but what adolescents need from us most is to hang in there and to stay connected but in different and new ways.  You may feel you are doing all the work, but it will be worth it in the end.


Beth Sarlos
CGGS School Counsellor


Useful parenting websites to browse :



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